#WarfareWeek: The Fight to Love Yourself

Today, I am delighted to welcome the lovely Emerald Barnes to share her fight with learning to love herself. Every day, she is out teaching others to love themselves, too, not only through her books (Entertaining Angels, Before We Say I Do, and the soon-to-be-released Delivered by Angels), which deal with important teen topics such as self-esteem and forgiveness, but also through promoting #loveyourself and #youarenotalone on social media. I am so honored this fierce warrior chose to spend this week with me!

Ladies and gentleman, without further ado, please join me in welcoming the one and only Emerald Barnes!

***

For years, I hated my body. I hated my looks, and I didn’t feel worthy of much of anything, especially God’s love. I was beat down and broken, and I didn’t even realize that I was being held back from my full potential. I honestly thought it was “normal” to feel this way, but in time, I have come to realize that was just the devil blinding me from the true love of God and from being who God has called me to be. That doesn’t mean that I haven’t learned from my experience, and now, I’m using it to show others how they too can overcome their hatred of themselves.

Warfare is nothing to joke about, and it’s even worse when you don’t even realize the battle that you’re fighting. I had no clue that I fought a battle on a daily basis to love myself. I didn’t realize that that was a tool used by the devil to hold me back and to make me seek validation from people instead of God. I was so dumb looking back it, but it just goes to prove how smart the devil is.

I’d fought small battles before: fear, doubt, mild depression. Those were so small in comparison to the battle the devil was using against me to beat me down into his submission when I should have been under submission to God.

Submission to God

As long as I can remember, I’ve been overweight. I’ve been the fat girl, the “DUFF”— Designated Ugly Fat Friend—, the “friend” to the guys I’ve had crushes on. I was the girl in the hallway everyone else made fun of. The bullying from them was nothing compared the bigger plan the devil had in place for me.

All of these years of the devil using people to beat me up, spreading lies in my ear as I looked in the mirror, wore me down. I used food as a means to replace my emotions. I literally ate my emotions. I didn’t live a healthy lifestyle, and so I gained more weight.

I yo-yo dieted my entire high school and college existence, thinking that if I lost weight I’d feel better. Thinking that if I lost weight, men would find me more attractive. I longed for a relationship where people would love me for who I was, the fat girl longing for love.

I dated guys who weren’t good for me. I had convinced myself that they loved me, but instead, I was foolishly being used. They didn’t love me, and I didn’t love them. I was just in love with the idea of being in love because I had spent so many years longing for that, even writing romances and daydreaming of finding that perfect guy. (I also daydreamed of being skinny—and that is when I would find my “true love”.)

I lived completely in a fantasy world, longing for something that I didn’t have, and wondering if God would ever send me someone who loved me like I had hoped they would.

It never happened, and I fell into this strange, almost depression like mood, and I would literally cry, begging God to change my body and send me someone who would love me. I never expected the answer that I would receive.

I’ve told this story many times because it’s the moment that I realized that I had been under an attack of satan for most of my life. It’s the moment that God showed me just how much I was truly loved, and it wasn’t by any earthly man. It was the Man who died on the cross for me.

I was driving home from my cousin’s house one night when MercyMe’s Beautiful came on on the radio (K-LOVE), and at this time in my life, I rarely ever listened to Christian music. (I had gotten to the point where I thought hearing it in church was enough. I was wrong, of course.) I almost stopped in the middle of the road as God’s presence filled the car, wrapping me in His love. I knew then and there that God was telling Me that that song was about me. That I was beautiful because He created me, loved me.

From that day on, I began to look at myself differently. I began to try and see myself the way that God sees me. The devil’s lies were still strong within me, but God showed me that I was in a battle, and He had just given me the means to fight back. Love. Love for Him, love for myself, love for others. Love was the answer.

Weapons

I had never thought that my hatred of my body was something of the devil until God had me write Entertaining Angels. As the idea came to me, I saw that I had been fighting the devil and his minions the whole time as I struggled to love myself and see my own beauty.

If I had never heard God tell me that I was beautiful, I don’t think that I would have grown as much as I have and be a witness to others. The devil knew that God was going to do something big with my life, and he had been tormenting me, breaking me down slowly over the years trying to stop me. He almost did because I was ready to give up on all kinds of love at this point, but God—oh but God—saved me.

Loving myself is still a struggle at times. I want to look like this or look like that, but I see with each battle how much God loves me. And I know without a shadow of a doubt the devil will not win. The love of God is what keeps me going, and I know that He loves me, despite my size. Despite the way I see myself, He loves me. And He loves you too.

War isn’t easy, but God has prepared us for such a battle. I know it won’t be easy. It never is, but we’re winners. Because God loves us, there isn’t any demon on earth that can stop us. Put on the armor of God today and lift up your sword because whatever battle you’re going through, you’re victorious!

***

What did I tell y’all? I just love Emerald’s testimony. If you’d like to hear more from her, please connect with her on her blog, Facebook, and Twitter. Emerald is also opening up her blog during April for others to share their stories of depression, self-harm, and suicide attempts to show people who struggle with these things they are not alone. If you have a story, please sign up here: http://www.signupgenius.com/go/10c044faaa923a4fc1-youarenotalone. I know she would love to have your perspective.

 

What Haunts Me

This week I am writing about what haunts me in A Year with the Baptists.  It’s probably going to be a bloodbath, but I’ve got to be honest: true to the characters, true to the story.  I’m afraid of the emotion and discomfort I’m going to have to wade through to get it all down, and yet I know it will make the story that much better.

Here’s the teensiest glimpse into what I’ll be working on this week:

Teaser Quote 3

 

These were Emma’s last moments in the house where she had not only grown up, but also conquered demons. Demons that probably still lurked in dark corners waiting for a weak moment to attack, she considered as she stood in the stair landing, looking into the school room. She shivered at this thought, suddenly filled with fear and an impulse to run downstairs, yet something made her stay planted where she was.

Write What You Know

I have been so afraid the past twenty-four hours about what might pop up in my various social media feeds, especially on Facebook.  I have been afraid of seeing my friends and family affirm attitudes that display ignorance and judgment about a complex disease.  (My disease, in case you were wondering, gifted to me from both sides of my family, and perhaps some suffocating life circumstances as well).

Sure enough, I’ve heard about the ignorance and judgment coming from people who have clearly never wrestled with depression. How do I know these people don’t struggle with depression?  Because they’re sitting there at their keyboards, spewing ideas at the world at a breakneck speed of 70 WPM, without any consideration of the people who will be reading them.  They’ve shown up with bells on to tell those of us who do wrestle with this disease how we should handle it.  Unfortunately, they’ve broken the cardinal rule of writing (and really, relating to people): write (or talk about) what you know.

I was going to write about this anyhow, before I heard anything about Robin Williams.  You see, last week, I read a book and there really wasn’t anything wrong with the writing/story itself, but it dealt with depression, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts.  These are issues in which I have personal experience, and I was disturbed to see them represented and resolved the way they were – vastly oversimplified.  The whole book gave me the impression that the author had done her research on these things, but had no experience in them.

This isn’t to say a writer must always write versions of themselves and their life stories.  (That’s just narcissistic).  There are just certain things one can’t write or speak about, because they don’t know them.  If you want to write or speak about something you don’t know from experience (say historical fiction), you must at least do so with empathy, that gift to see through the eyes of others.  Don’t attempt it through your own eyes: that only comes across as insincere and serves to drive people away.

This is what I have had to remind myself, both last week and today: some people just don’t know.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop them from writing or speaking, because not only do they not know, they don’t know that they don’t know.  (Confused yet?)

I’m currently writing my own book about what I know – not just about depression, but about abuse, anger, dark nights of the soul, sexuality, and a host of other things that I have lived – so I’m not going to hash out what I know here.  Besides, you can read wise and healthy perspectives by Ann Voskamp, Nish Weiseth, and Megan Tietz, and whether depression is something you know from experience or not, I highly recommend you do.

I just want to admonish people everywhere: write and talk about what you know.  If you don’t know about it, please just sit down and be quiet.